Ipsos Corporate Reputation

What Keeps Communicators Awake at Night?

Reputation Council members across the world face a range of business challenges – but what are the biggest issues that keep them awake at night?

24/7 and
fragmented media environment

"You have not only fragmentation but distrust in the media as well, which is making it increasingly difficult to engage and land messages."
"We used to control the information, these days, the information is coming from everywhere. So we play the role of conductor, catalyst."
"The demarcation line between capital markets and the rest of the world is getting more and more porous. Messages for the general public are becoming just as relevant for capital markets, and vice versa."
"We need to deal with a much more informed, empowered and vocal consumer."

Aligning internal teams

"We are a new organisation working with technology, so there aren’t regulations in place around what we do. There is an advocacy role we need to take… Bring the external voice to every business decision that is made and that is the increasing role of corporate communicators."
"Making it understood in-house that corporate and business are now one and the same, that there is no more dichotomy between corporate communications and actual user experience."
"Reputation issues are being included more and more in the due diligence processes for big government tenders. This not only affects us, but also the partners we bring into large projects."
"If you work for a business where the CEO fundamentally doesn’t get or give time to reputation management, it makes the job really hard, whereas if you have that sponsorship from the top, you can achieve a lot more."
"It’s a reputation economy... Marketers don’t get reputation. I think it takes a crisis for people to realise the importance in reputation management."

Employee Engagement

"Engaging and activating employees, because not everyone trusts a CEO, but they trust people like themselves."
"Each individual has become a medium in their own right and a communicator, we need to work particularly hard on associates in the company who are its first spokespersons, first ambassadors, and who, what’s more, can potentially be very powerful."

Fake news, misinformation,
and declining trust in experts

"The main problem is the issue of credibility – how the messages that you are delivering are credible for the different stakeholders."
"Because people don’t really care about what you are trying to communicate with them, they care more about what you are doing and what value you can bring."

Sustainability and purpose

"Society has an expectation that corporates deliver for those communities where we live and work… Local relationships are more important."
"The digital revolution brings many differences of behaviours, very different desires, ways of working, ways to consume information. And this generation has a very clear vision of the absolute need to transform society in terms of sustainability."

Lack of public trust in business

"If I talk to my counterparts in the FTSE 100, they see this anti-capitalist sentiment and there is an anti-business sentiment and there’s a lack of trust that the corporate sector will do the right thing and there’s a very unsophisticated view that it is all about shareholders and we don’t worry about other stakeholders."
"We’re facing the defiance that companies, and particularly large multinationals, can generate among the general public, but through contamination coming from the media, political decision-makers."

Political polarisation

"As a global company, what are the right issues that employees, customers and investors want to see us involved in? The company looks to the communications function to advise on where to take a stand and what are the costs/benefits."
"The turbulent political environment and lack of harmony in society. We’re trying to find our place as a company to remedy that."
"Deteriorating levels of trust in government and a deterioration in the functionality, effectiveness and stability of government. There is uncertainty in the policy environment."

Methodology: 154 interviews conducted with Reputation Council members between 25th June and 12th November 2018.

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The Reputation Council Report 2018: Full Report

Welcome to the latest briefing from the Ipsos Reputation Council.

This – our thirteenth sitting – has been the biggest and most international yet, involving 154 senior communicators from 20 countries.

As Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, once said: “reputation has a habit of arriving on foot and departing on horseback”. In the past year, a welter of high-profile reputation scandals affecting businesses, their leaders and even whole industry sectors has, once again, focused our minds on the risks and rewards of this powerful but potentially volatile asset.

Some of these scandals have posed a genuine threat to companies’ continued survival or licence to operate. Others have fizzled out. In this edition, we examine how Reputation Council members distinguish between issues which might blow up into a genuine reputation crisis, and others that are just day-to-day turbulence. What indicators or early warning systems can communicators draw on, to help them build resilience?

The technology sector has been wrestling with some unprecedented reputation issues recently. Concerns around privacy, data leaks, advertising practices, AI and automation have come together to create the phenomenon of ‘techlash’. We talk to Council members about the implications for their own businesses and the lessons that communicators can learn from the way in which the technology sector is responding to techlash.

We’re also beginning to see greater scrutiny of the role that CEOs should play in external communications, against a backdrop of issues such as pay ratio reporting, gender inequality, shrinking CEO tenures and the ‘celebrity leader’. In this edition, we explore Council members’ playbook for CEO-led communications, and look at how the CCO can ensure that these communications build, rather than destroy, reputation value.

The opportunities and challenges that come with communicating in a global context is a theme we’ve examined in past editions. In this sitting, we ask Council members how they strike the right balance between global and local messaging and narratives, and how they keep a finger on the pulse of their reputation (or reputations) around the world.

Lastly, we’ve introduced some new, ‘quickfire’ sections, in which we analyse Council members’ views on a number of contentious, topical talking points, such as the death of CSR, the distraction posed by social media, the need to pick a side in a polarising society, and whether consumers will overlook poor corporate behaviour if the price is right

I hope you enjoy this edition of the Reputation Council report. Please do get in touch if you’d like to find out more about any of the issues covered or discuss how they might affect your own business.

Milorad Ajder
Global Service Line Leader
Corporate Reputation

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Global Perspectives on Sector Reputations

Which industries are facing the greatest reputation challenges at the moment?


Media: 44%

Tech: 44%

Pharma: 31%

Despite lingering reputational issues still plaguing the financial services sector, the recent assault on media and tech means that these two industries are seen to be facing the greatest reputational challenges in North America. Each of these industries is named by 44% of Council members.

Beyond these two industries, pharmaceuticals now holds the third position in terms of reputational challenges at 31%. Cost and value continue to drive the conversation, and with the US government putting more of a spotlight on drug costs, these reputational challenges are likely to continue.

"[Media has] got a constant drumbeat of ‘fake news’, how do you overcome that?"
"These are self-inflicted wounds [in the tech industry] – companies are not thinking through the implications of their actions on their customers."

Construction: 50%

Energy: 41%

Mining: 34%

In Latin America, construction rises to the top as the industry facing the greatest reputational challenges this year (50%). A number of corruption charges have embroiled not only specific companies throughout the region but also politicians and civil servants.

Energy (41%) and mining (34%) round out the top three most challenged industries, predominantly due to environmental concerns and a perception that they bring limited benefits to the local markets.

"There is a public perception that mining pollutes, does not produce profits for the country, and is a group of companies that do not add local value but add value to those who extract the material and take it away."

Finance: 44%

Energy: 43%

Finance remains one of the industries facing the greatest reputational challenge in Europe (mentioned by 44% of Council members). In the words of one Council member, “this crisis has not been solved yet, given that the image reconstruction process appears to be very slow.”

Additional challenges for the financial services sector include cyber security concerns and emerging FinTech players challenging the traditional financial companies.

Energy also continues to face reputational challenges, cited by 43% of Council members in Europe. Issues continue to focus on environmental concerns, climate change, sustainability and consumer costs.

"When energy companies don’t immediately pass on price savings from a barrel of oil to a consumer or to a client, then the negative repercussions are there immediately."

Finance: 88%

Energy: 71%

Media: 71%

Consistent with last year, the financial services industry continues to suffer reputational challenges in APAC, though mentions are higher this year at 88% (up from 73% in the last wave). Council members continue to cite the lingering effects of the financial crisis.

The energy sector is also mentioned more frequently than last year (71%), and while affordability and sustainability are still key reasons, government policy is now referenced far more frequently by Council members.

This year, media is also mentioned by 65% of Council members in APAC, with many attributing this to a changing media landscape as well as the resounding cry of ‘fake news’.

"The energy policy is a mess. Can’t separate from political environment."
"The Trump phenomenon and the constant hammering of ‘fake news’."

In full: how Reputation Council members around the world perceived each sector's reputation

Methodology: 154 interviews conducted with Reputation Council members between 25th June and 12th November 2018. Base: All Reputation Council members – Global (145), North America (16), Europe (80), Latin America (32), APAC (17).

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